Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Relapse does not mean that your recovery journey has failed. For many people in recovery, relapse is considered another step toward securing long-lasting healing—an opportunity to learn something else that will benefit down the road.

Recovery from substance use and addiction is never an easy experience. It involves overcoming physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, triggers, cravings, and other mental roadblocks that make securing sobriety an intense challenge.

The fact is that even the people who have been sober for years can struggle with temptations and relapse experiences. Although you must grasp the mindset of attempting to avoid relapse in recovery, if it does happen to you, there are ways that you can set your path straight again.

What Is Relapse?

Relapse is when an individual returns to using alcohol or other drugs after committing to sobriety. The term “lapse” describes a brief slip-up where a person might drink or use drugs, but a relapse describes slipping back into habitual or consistent substance use.

Most people find themselves in addiction recovery because they realize that they have no control over their substance use. Additionally, they have probably even admitted it. Treatment teaches people how to gain that loss of power back in their lives, especially when achieving long-term abstinence.

Relapse tends to occur because people think they have regained control over their substance use. This mindset is dangerous because addiction does not go away, even after gaining self-control. Addiction causes significant psychological changes to the brain. Lifelong abstinence is necessary to experience long-lasting recovery from the consequences of addiction.

There are many warning signs of relapse.

There are many ways to view the warning signs of relapse. One way exists in three distinct stages, including emotional, mental, and physical symptoms.

Emotional relapse is the first stage of relapse. In this stage, a person is experiencing heightened emotions, which may or may not stem from the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms accompanying abstinence. If a person is experiencing intense or problematic emotions, they are potentially heading toward a future relapse. Some of these signs include:

  • Isolation
  • Mood swings
  • Abnormal eating habits
  • Abnormal sleeping habits or insomnia
  • Not attending treatment
  • Not participating in treatment
  • Failing to replace harmful practices with healthier coping mechanisms

Stage two, mental relapse, occurs when a person does not change their emotions or behaviors in the first stage. Usually, this happens when people contemplate using drugs again to escape their emotional experiences. These signs might include:

  • Cravings of the addictive substance
  • Fantasizing about using substances again
  • Bargaining with the pros and cons of use
  • Glamorizing drug use
  • Believing that they can control their substance use

The third stage is physical relapse. This stage takes place when a person actively engages in substance use. When this happens, the person must get the treatment they need to break the cycle of addiction.

There is hope after relapse.

If relapse is a part of your recovery story, there are ways that you can get back on track in your recovery. Consider:

  • Processing your emotions. If you struggle with feelings of guilt and shame after relapse, odds are you struggled with processing your emotions well before you relapsed. No matter what you are feeling, it is crucial that you allow yourself to feel everything that you are feeling. Do not fight the uncomfortable feelings. Instead, acknowledge them for what they are and try to find reasoning for them. Then, when you are ready to try again, you can use these emotions as motivation to stay sober.
  • Admitting yourself back into treatment. Some people find themselves attending several different treatment programs before finding interventions and education that sustain their commitment to recovery. There are many program options available for addiction recovery, and you must research the treatment modalities that will benefit you the best.
  • Learning new coping skills. If you think you have learned all there is to know about coping skills, think again! You can learn endless coping skills to help you manage triggers, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms. If you have yet to come across a practical, preferred coping mechanism that works for you, you just haven’t found it yet. For example, try:
    • Mindfulness interventions, such as meditation, yoga, or breath-work.
    • Stress management techniques, such as taking a boxing class.
    • Fostering gratitude.
    • Taking on a new hobby, such as cooking or flipping cheap furniture into new creations.
    • Challenging intrusive thoughts.
  • Altering your expectations about recovery. Many people enter into recovery, acknowledging that relapse will probably happen to them. If this sounds like you, it will benefit you to adjust your expectations about recovering in general. If you are devoted to your wellbeing, you must commit yourself to lifelong abstinence.

Relapse can break your spirit. It can feel like you have failed at your recovery journey, even though relapse is a common experience for many attempting to sustain long-lasting recovery. If you have relapsed, it is essential that you find proactive ways to get back on track in your healing. Consider learning new coping skills, getting back into treatment, and altering your recovery expectations to help you remain abstinent. Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is an addiction and substance use treatment center that understands what it can feel like to relapse. We pride our facility on creating a compassionate, understanding community for our staff and patients. We want to help guide you to a long-lasting recovery from substance use, especially after relapse. For more information about what to do after relapse or about our treatment facility, give us a call today at (877) 557-5372. Let us empower your healing journey.